Kids Complicate Things

Turn on your favorite rap artist’s latest album and you’ll probably hear at least a line or two reminiscing about being an angry little boy whose dad ran out on him and his mother. I grew up around a lot of these broken kids. One kid I knew, who was only 14 at the time and already openly gay and sexually active was one of these fatherless victims, his father gone, his mom in her own drug induced world. That kid didn’t have a kitchen floor. Literally, the floor in the kitchen of his double wide trailer had rotted away.

Other kids I knew had dads who beat the shit out of them. I guess getting the shit beat out of you might be better than abandonment though. Perhaps something is better than nothing at all, contemplating the grand mystery of why you weren’t good enough to stick around for, for an entire lifetime.

I look at my own children today and they break my heart with love. They cause me to well up with such emotion that it almost incites rage in my soul when I hear about kids whose fathers have abused or ran away from them.

Last night I went in my girl’s room and laid with each of them as they slept. I rubbed their backs, buried my nose into their little head of hair and just breathed it in… then kissed each on the cheek and snuck off before I woke them up.

While I laid beside my girls, I thought about something I remembered the economist Steve Levitt, from the Freakanomics podcast, say while discussing the loss of his one year old son many years ago. He said that losing a child never gets easier, it never stops hurting, it continues to hurt every single day. You just learn to cope with it and keep living.

I feel Steve’s pain. I couldn’t stand it. It’s the one challenge I imagine not being able to overcome. It is the one thing that would drive me to the brink- losing one of my children.

So then how does a man walk away from one willfully? How does a father ever willfully harm his child?

It really takes a fucking pathetic puddle of puke to do so.

Having children and loving them deeply and oh so selfishly that it shakes you to the core is to feel the essence of life.

Maybe it’s biological, maybe it’s spiritual. I don’t care. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to feel it.

-Holden

Why A One-Size-Fits-All Minimum Wage Doesn’t Work For America

It seems to me that federally enforced on-size-fits-all minimum wage legislation is an ineffective way for policy makers to improve the standard of living for this country’s people.

I completely agree that something needs to be done. There are a thousand different ways we could improve the standard of living for the entire country. Simple and effective ways we could close the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us, but $10.10 an hour isn’t one of them. Frankly, it’s lazy policy making.

$10.10 an hour means different things in different parts of the country:

I think it is difficult for people in different parts of the country to understand what $10.10 an hour means to one another. Someone in New York City probably thinks that $10.10 an hour is slave wages while someone in Jackson, Mississippi (capital of MS) probably considers $10.10 an hour a livable wage. That is because the average cost of living varies wildly from region to region in the United States.

Average Cost of Living

Housing Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare median sales prices for homes across the country (source):

City Median Sale Price
Manhattan, NY $1,175,000
Jackson, MS $184,502
Seattle, WA $435,000
Atlanta, GA $245,000
San Francisco, CA $945,000

Gas Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare gas prices across the country (source)

City Regular Mid Premium Diesel
Manhattan, NY $4.052 $4.216 $4.354 $4.479
Jackson, MS $3.440 $3.642 $3.812 $3.737
Seattle, WA $4.035 $4.152 $4.255 4.109
Atlanta, GA $3.692 $3.871 $4.045 $3.893
San Francisco, CA $4.225 $4.342 $4.440 $4.291

Note: There are similar variances for food and clothing costs.

It is important to realize that these major variances are across major cities. If you compare rural areas to cities the variance is even more dramatic. So why does anyone expect a one-sized-fits-all minimum wage to work across the country?

The Solution: A Livable Wage that Fits

If we want to increase the minimum wage it seems like we need to make an effort to understand what that wage is in each part of country. We should not pick a number that everyone is expected to implement across the board. The country is to diverse for that to be successful.

What may be a fit for Seattle, WA would probably be overly burdensome to businesses in Jackson, MS. What may work in Jackson, MS would probably be insufficient in Manhattan, NY. So why do we treat wages the same when costs across the country are provably and undeniably different? This makes no sense to me.

Instead, it seems like we should empower our communities and local policy makers to actin the best interest of their constituents by providing the people living there with critical data and information to make better decisions for themselves. And if we are going to implement something federally (which I don’t think we should) – shouldn’t we at least make an effort to make it work for everyone?

We are a great country because of our diversity. There is something, somewhere, for everyone. We have always embraced that mantra. I don’t think we should stop now.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.

Proof that our Health and Medical Insurance System is FUCKED!

Today I got a bill in mail for when my wife went to the doctor recently due to having the flu. She didn’t go to the Emergency Room mind you, she went to her primary care physician.

The final cost to me out of pocket was only $25. Not bad if you forget that I pay about $400 every month in insurance premiums then my employer picks up another $800 for a total of approx. $1200 a month to insure my family.

But check out the wonderful itemized bill! It’s for almost $400!!!!!

Look closer and you notice the doctors and insurance companies have some nice deals with each other. The doctor discounted the insurer $177 + $82. Yup- $259 (65% of the bill) was “Wrote Off”.

2014-06-19 20_35_17-Picasa 3

I wonder if I were uninsured and I went in for this visit, would they have wrote off 65% of the medical bill for me, or stuck my poor soul with the whole $400?!

Someone give me a spoon so I can gouge my eyes out! This is maddening!

-Holden

Consulting is not for the faint of heart

Sometimes I feel like consulting might be one of the hardest jobs on Earth.

For all of you who aren’t a consultant or never have been, answer the following questions for me:

  1. Do you regularly find yourself being sold as an “expert” on technologies or subject matter you might not have never even heard of?

This actually happens a lot in consulting. Bonus hungry managers and business developers sell off their consultants as experts in subject matter they may have never heard of, then when you show up at the client who is probably paying something to the tune of $100 an hour for your time, they are rightfully upset when they discover you aren’t the expert they were promised.

You turn to your own management and team to have the same business developers and managers tell you over and over, “Yes you are an expert”, you reply “no I’m not”, they return, “Oh yes you are!” and again you repeat, “Oh no I am not!”

  1. You’re expected to show up anywhere, sometimes many time zones or a multi-hour drive away from your home and put in the time until the job is finished. Your manager kindly buys you dinner, which is basically just a nice way of pointing out that you aren’t allowed to leave your little cube or conference room to go get your own dinner.

I experience 10 to 14 hour days on a semi-regular basis, not including commute times.

  1. You regularly have to watch clients pitch fits like children including pounding fists on desks, stomping around, saying one thing in private then back stabbing you in meetings and being terrible human beings altogether.

There tends to be at least one diva on every project.

So if consulting sucks so bad, why do you do it?

That leads me to why I’m writing this post. Why do I work in this field? I think because for those who are of strong character, it has the potential to transform you into a business powerhouse.

Over the past two years I’ve worked in this field I have:

  1. Mastered interpersonal communications and learned to deal with difficult people with precision, calm and tactfulness. Well, not quite mastered, but definitely came full circle.
  2. Became an IT wiz. Eventually you catch up and develop the skills you were sold as having, else you perish and limp off with your tail between your legs.
  3. Learned to say no! I used to have the hardest time saying no. I couldn’t even pass the damn Direct TV sales guys in Costco without politely giving them my attention for five solid minutes, only to sheepishly decline their offer. Now I walk in with my head held high and confidently assert “Hey guys! Thank you very much but I don’t need your FUCKING DIRECT TV!”
  4. Learned to enjoy a good fight and stay calm under fire. Dealing with unreasonable deadlines, clients who seem to never be happy and demanding managers forces you to really hone your Fight or Flight instincts and learn to assess stressful situations with a sound mind.

So that’s why I work in Consulting

Industry jobs aren’t for me. Doing the same routine day in and out isn’t for me. The things I hate most about consulting are coincidentally the things I love most about it. Being forced to learn new things all the time, being forced to travel, dealing with assholes and besting them in the long run.

Sometimes when you’re having a really bad day, it’s good to reflect or write down why it is you do whatever it is that is causing you so much grief.

In some cases, maybe this makes you realize you need to stop whatever it is you’re doing, while in others it reasserts why it is you get up every morning and keep fighting the good fight.

For now, I’ll keep fighting, if out of sheer stubbornness more so than anything else.

-Holden

Head of the Family

Having a kid has forced me to examine a lot of things in my life. I have to think about what I say, how I say it, and the inadvertent message I am sending to my daughter any time I act. It is an constant exercise of restraint, self control, and leadership. It is something I never gave much thought until she was already here.

Starting my own family has also forced me to reflect on my own childhood. The traditions we had, the good times, and the bad. And after a lot of self reflection I’ve come to realize that I am the launching pad for my family. I am the transitional figure who will likely set a new precedence for future generations to follow.

I don’t mean that in an egotistical kind of way, it’s just that I believe I am the first person in my family to recognize and accept this responsibility. My father suffers from addiction, my mother from depression, both from lack of education. Going generations back there is no figure that holds the family together. There are few traditions and no one I would call the “head of the family”.

I want my wife and daughter to have these things. I even want my parents and in-laws to experience these type of things. I picture the entire family sitting around a big dining room table on special occasions. Love, security, and tradition. There was a shortage of those things in my life and I want my family to have it.

So when I’m angry I take pause. When someone upsets me I stop and think. Instead of reacting I reflect on the big picture. Sure, I could probably say something to hurt this person’s feelings, but instead I’ll take it for the team. I’ll be the glue that holds this family together. I’ll swallow the insults, the ignorance, and instead be a leader. I’ll do all these things because I can and there’s no one else to do it. My reward is the result.

Red Pill/Blue Pill

Recently, I decided to be son of the year and take my mom on a father/mother trip to Washington DC. I’d been working in the area for a while and decided to fly her up and have her stay with me in one of Washington DC’s fanciest hotels just a few blocks from the National Mall. It was a real treat for both of us.

I don’t have a history of getting along well with my mother, but I figured this time would be different. This time we’d bond and have a great time.

It didn’t go so well. I don’t need to elaborate or go into detail, but it really… really didn’t go so well.

I made a lot of personal discovery over the painful weekend though. It made me realize how much our experiences shape us. It made me appreciate the value of education, the college experience, travel and working in a diverse workplace. I made me realize just how boxed in many people become over time.

I don’t mean to fault the person who didn’t take the opportunity or possibly ever have the means or ability to experience these things, but instead want to stress that you should make it a priority in your life to seek these things out at all costs.

These things- education, the college experience, travel, and working in a diverse workplace are game changers. They are paradigm shifters. They are the difference between taking the Red Pill and the Blue Pill so to speak (as seen in the Matrix).

redblue_pill

Sadly, I get the impression that my mom sees me as uppity, snobbish or hoity-toity. And when I place myself in her shoes, and step back in time a bit and consider how I myself saw the world when I was a teenager, I guess I am just that according to my former self.

Today I’d defend myself against these accusations. I’d argue that I value quality and substance, I’d argue that there is true value to many of the finer things in life like the fine arts, expert craftsmanship, or even an admittedly overpriced craft beer.

Of course, all these perceptions and attitudes are things that have developed over time as I’ve met many different people from various walks of life, read endless books, sat in countless classroom lectures and seen multiple wondrous sights from different corners of the world.

My point is- enrich yourself at all costs. Don’t allow yourself to be boxed in, even if you think you are happy with this. Don’t accept the blue pill (the blissful ignorance of illusion). This path and formula isn’t the same for everyone, the elements of education, college, travel and a diverse workspace are simply my formula.

Find your own formula. Don’t take the blue pill. Open your eyes and step outside the little box of a mundane, two dimensional life.

-Holden

Sunday Morning Coffee

Sometimes I become very caught up with what I think life is supposed to be and forget what my life really is. Life doesn’t have to be so stressful. Life doesn’t have to be this continuous race – where there is no finish line. Life can be more (or less, rather).

That is what I love most about my Sunday morning coffee. I wake up at no particular time, slowly move down-stairs, carefully grind and prepare a cup of coffee, and enjoy the cool morning air on my front porch. It has been a methodical and almost meditative routine.

I take this time to think about nothing in particular. To enjoy a few squirrels running across my front yard, the birds making noise, and the leaves rustling from time to time. Most of all I enjoy the perfect temperature – before the Georgia heat forces me inside.

I wish I had more of these slow days. Maybe, over time, as I mature and allow myself to do so I will grow wise enough to give up more of my “ambition” and gain the courage to simply be present in each moment. Present on my front porch enjoying the world.  Like right now.

The Economics of Compounded Growth

Our economy slowly grows at around 4% a year. This is a given. An expectation. Anything less is seen as a failure, anything more is an achievement.

I read an article today that did a good job of putting that kind of growth into perspective.

“Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham(1).
The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. We simply can’t go on this way.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems(2).”

This idea makes me wonder: Where is our breaking point? Where is the point in which we can’t sustain growth any longer? And what is our contingency plan?

I don’t know. Maybe we are already there. Maybe technology will let us keep going further than any of us ever dreamed. I don’t claim to know, but it’s certainly something we should all consider.

Problems and Solutions to the Broken Healthcare System

My wife and I recently had a little girl. Until that moment I had never been exposed to the healthcare and insurance ecosystem. I have been fortunate. I’ve never had an extended stay at the hospital, I’ve never been on prescription medication, and as an adult, I have never been to the doctor outside a checkup. Now I realize that the system is completely convoluted and non-transparent.

From what I can tell there are four major problems with the healthcare and insurance mechanisms.

1. Prices for healthcare services are unavailable, non-existent, or not published.
2. There is no crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals (think yelp for hospitals).
3. Since everyone is insured no one cares about cost. This has resulted in higher prices.
4. The people have no power to control the quality or cost of the healthcare services.

These four problems ultimately result in a system that is too expensive, low quality, and where the people have no power to do anything about it.

Here are my proposed solutions:

1. Pricing for healthcare services are unavailable, non-existent, or not published.

Require all hospitals post itemized prices for their goods and services. Every procedure should have an itemized “menu” outlining what the procedure may cost. Since any given procedure is highly variable the menu should include “average cost”, “best case”, “most likely”, and “worst case” scenarios.

The menu should also include things like bandages, medication, and anything else a hospital could use to inadvertently pad the bill.  Great hospitals should even consider hiring a “budget specialist” who discusses costs and options with each patient.

These menus should be posted online and available before he procedure. This will allow individuals and insurance companies to shop around for a facility that meets the individuals’ need. This will also drive prices down since hospitals will be forced to compete based on price (or provide superior service to justify higher prices).

I would not eat at a restaurant that didn’t post prices so I should not have to receive healthcare services without prices either.

2. There is no crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals (think yelp.com for hospitals).

There should be a crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals. In my opinion this would have been a much better investment than healthcare.gov. When hospitals are forced to compete for business based on price and services the consumer benefits. Prices will ultimately fall and service will rise.

For example, in Atlanta there are several major hospitals in the metro area. For most procedures I have no idea what a service cost or who the best service provider may be. I usually just go to the closest major hospital. I imagine most people do the same thing.

A rating system would enable a consumer to quickly and easily search for a service provider based on thousands of consumer ratings. Ultimately a sick person cannot choose if they want to go to the hospital, but they can choose which hospital they visit. The power of consumer choice based on good information will ultimately force hospitals to compete.

3. Since everyone is insured no one cares about prices. This has resulted in higher prices.

The third major problem I see with the healthcare system are insurance companies.

Healthcare prices are so complex and expensive (for reason listed above) that no one can or wants to deal with it. We defer all responsibility to our insurers. Now, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) we have no choice anyways. Ultimately this leads to a system where no one cares about prices because they will be paying the same insurance premium regardless. But this is a false premise.

Because no one cares about prices and live under the illusion that their costs are the same there is no incentive to seek more cost effective solutions. People rarely look at their hospital bill and pay whatever the insurer requires. This ultimately leads to higher healthcare costs and higher healthcare insurance premiums.

Healthcare insurers should provide incentives (lower insurance premiums) to individuals who shop around for better prices and value. This would ultimately lower insurance prices and force hospitals to compete again.

4. The people have no power to control the quality or cost of the healthcare services they receive. 

The biggest problem with our healthcare system is that the people receiving the services have no power to control prices or the quality of service they receive. The appropriate infrastructure is not in place. All of the power resides with the insurance companies and healthcare providers.

Insurance companies operate as powerful unions who dictate what they will pay a hospital for a given good or service. Insurance companies have large staff who perform complex pricing studies so they understand what people are paying and how much a product SHOULD cost regardless what a hospital charges.

This results in hospitals charging several times market value for a given good or service because they fully expect the insurance company to pay only a small fraction of that amount. Meanwhile: the consumer is screwed, hospitals charge too much, and insurance companies reek most of the profits.

Obamacare:

Obamacare has only served to strengthen this broken system by further empowering insurance companies and disenfranchising the individual. Since EVERYONE is now forced to have healthcare insurance this eliminates any opportunity for individuals to negotiate or bargain for themselves.

Ultimately, we live in a system where the insurance companies dictate how much they will pay hospitals and how much they will charge consumers. Meanwhile, there has been no progress toward a system that promotes competition, dives prices down, or leads to better services.